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Editorial: Swimming Pool Blues

July 2, 2010

Because of ongoing renovations, Roberto Clemente State Park’s swimming pools will likely be closed for the entire summer for the second year in a row – something Leon Johnson, the president of River Park Towers Tenants Association, calls a “disgrace.”

He has a point.

Sure, the pools needed a makeover, and it’s great that they’re getting one, but the State Parks Department’s timing is appalling. Work began last summer, meaning that season was a write-off, and now this one is too.

Why didn’t construction start last fall? If it had, only one summer – this one – would have been lost. Clearly the people making these decisions don’t have local children’s best interests at heart. No wonder Johnson and others are angry.

Roberto Clemente’s Pools Closed for Second Straight Year

July 2, 2010

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ROBERTO CLEMENTE’ STATE PARK’S OLYMPIC-SIZED SWIMMING POOL IS STILL BEING RENOVATED (PHOTO: J. EVELLY)

 BY JEANMARIE EVELLY

There’s no relief in sight for Morris Heights residents looking to cool off this summer—for the second year in a row.

While most public pools opened at the end of June, swimmers at Roberto Clemente State Park will have to go elsewhere. The park’s three pools—a wading area, diving tank and Olympic-sized main pool—are still undergoing renovation.

Adults and children were irked when the pools were closed last summer at the start of construction, which was supposed to take only 12 months.

But the work is still not finished.

“It’s nowhere near ready,” said Leon Johnson, president of the nearby apartment complex River Park Towers, and a Community Board 5 member. “They’re talking about August, they’re talking about October. Nobody swims in October. From what I could see, it may be time to close the pool by the time it opens.”

Both the diving tank and main pool are currently drained; the latter is filled with dirt, wheelbarrows and construction debris.

Rachel Gordon, New York City regional director with the New York State Parks Department, said she doesn’t have an estimated date for when the renovations will be finished, or when the pools might open up again. The project is ongoing because it’s so extensive, she said.

“It’s a huge, huge, huge job,” she said. “They did an enormous amount of work. The improvements are absolutely dramatic.”

Workers are gutting and rebuilding the locker rooms and have installed a child’s spray pool and play area, she said. The main pool is being entirely refurbished and getting a new filter system, while the diving tank will get a new set of pipes.

But the pools’ new additions are doing little to appease some residents looking to stay cool.

“The kids are desperate for the pool,” said Irene Viruet, who lives in nearby River Park Towers with her 4-year-old son and 8-month-old daughter. “We moved in last year and were hoping it would be done by this year.”

Officials had insisted last year that renovations would be finished in time for this summer.

“I didn’t believe that it would open up this year,” Johnson complained. “And here we are again. The administrators should be held accountable for this.”

Frances Rodriguez, the park’s director, referred all questions to Gordon and her office.

“The whole park was built in 1973, a lot of things have to be redone,” Gordon countered. “They’re working every day. It’s just a huge amount of work.”

The restorations are part of a larger project to rehabilitate a number of Bronx parks, with money provided by the city to compensate the borough for parkland occupied during the construction of a water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park.

Editor’s Notes: For a list of alternative pools and spray parks in the Bronx, click hereAnd click here for our editorial on the pools’ closure.

Several Candidates Hoping to Topple Espada

July 2, 2010

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STATE SENATOR AND SENATE MAJORITY LEADER PEDRO ESPADA, JR (PHOTO: A. WATKINS)

Below is a rundown of who’s looking to unseat State Sen. Pedro Espada, Jr. in the 33rd Senate district, which covers much of the west Bronx. To get on the Democratic primary ballot, each candidate – Espada included – needs to gather 1,000 signatures from registered voters by July 15. The primary is on Sept. 14. See here for Espada’s campaign website.

Daniel Padernacht
Age: 33
Residence: Van Cordlandt Village/Kingsbridge
Resume: Padernacht grew up in and now practices law in Kingsbridge. He touts the fact that his family has lived in the area for 60 years. He serves as a member of Community Board 8, where he sits on the Housing, Land Use and Public Safety committees. He recently volunteered on the promotion committee for the Riverdale Riverfest 2010, a family festival to support a Greenway along the Hudson River. As a lawyer, Padernacht says he spends time doing pro bono legal work.
Campaign Slogan: “From our community, for our community”
Website: www.votefordan2010.com

Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter
Age: 53
Residence: Fordham Hill
Resume: Pilgrim-Hunter was the first challenger to officially enter the race against Espada. She is best known locally for her work as a community activist for the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, where she is a board member. Last year, she became the face of the Coalition’s fight for living wage jobs at the Kingsbridge Armory and has also worked to alleviate overcrowding in public schools and to highlight the foreclosure crisis facing Bronx homeowners. She is also president of the Fordham Hill Owners Cooperative, the borough’s largest privately financed cooperative housing complex.
Campaign Slogan: “Community First”
Website: www.desireehunter.com

Gustavo Rivera
Age: 34
Residence: Kingsbridge
Resume: Until recently, Rivera was an aide to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. He stepped down in May so he could focus on his campaign. Prior to that, Rivera worked for, or campaigned for, a slew of elected officials, including State Senator Jose M. Serrano.
In 2008, he worked in field operations for the Obama campaign in several important primary states. He ended up in Florida, where, as the Obama’s constituency director, he helped drum up support among Hispanics.
Away from politics, Rivera teaches political science at Pace University. He’s also taught at Hunter College.
Website: www.gustavoforstatesenate.com

Fernando Tirado
Age: 40
Residence: Bedford Park
Resume: Tirado and his family moved to Bedford Park from Queens in 2006 and he joined Community Board 7 (Norwood, Bedford Park, Fordham and University Heights) as a member before being plucked to replace longtime district manager Rita Kessler in 2008.
Previously, Tirado, who has a BA in political science, worked for the city’s Health Department for a dozen years.
Last month, CB7 ordered Tirado to take a leave of absence from his job while he campaigned, because the board wanted to avoid the appearance of partisanship.
Campaign Slogan: “Community, Integrity, Dedication”
Website: www.fernandoptirado.com

Compiled by ALEX KRATZ and JAMES FERGUSSON.

Editor’s note: For regular updates on these races, visit the Bronx News Network’s blog.

Tolentine Senior Center Handed Last Minute Reprieve

July 2, 2010

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SENIORS PLAYING BINGO AT TOLENTINE SENIOR CENTER LAST WEEK (PHOTO: J. FERGUSSON)

By JAMES FERGUSSON

Last month, staff at Tolentine Zeiser Senior Center in University Heights began clearing out their offices.

They took the pictures off the walls; they filled several cardboard boxes with Christmas lights and other supplies they’d accumulated over the years; and they readied themselves for Wednesday, June 30, which was scheduled to be the center’s last day of operation.

Tolentine was one of 50 senior centers in the five boroughs that the Bloomberg Administration had slated for closure, because of cuts laid out in the city’s 2011 budget.

When they heard the news last month, seniors at Tolentine were devastated. “I was very sad,” said Migdalia Granado, 76, of Sedgwick Avenue. “A lot of the women were crying.”

On June 24, however, the unexpected happened, when approximately half of these centers, among them Tolentine and R.A.I.N Bailey, a center in Kingsbridge, were handed a reprieve when Bloomberg and City Council speaker Christine Quinn struck a deal to restore funding.

Councilman Fernando Cabrera says he convinced Quinn and her staff that the two local centers should not be shuttered. “To be honest with you, when it came down to it, I was just stubborn about it,” Cabrera said.

There are only five senior centers in his west Bronx district, while some Council districts have several times that number, said Cabrera, recalling the argument he made. Plus these centers pull in good numbers, with 60 to 70 seniors attending each day, he said.

Cabrera said about $140,000 was restored for Tolentine for the next fiscal year.

State Senator Pedro Espada also had a hand in ensuring that funding for area senior centers wasn’t cut off, his spokesman said. “The prospect of one senior center being closed was bad enough, but the threat of two centers being closed in the same district was very disturbing to me and the seniors,” Espada said in a statement.

One recent morning, a group of about 50 were sitting at tables inside Tolentine, chatting amongst themselves, or playing bingo, dominos or cards. The center, which is open weekdays, offers a $1 lunch, as well as various workshops and activities, from health informational sessions to belly-dancing lessons. Many talked of the relief they felt on hearing that their center was to stay open. “This is like a second home for them,” said the center’s director, Elizabeth Sanchez.

“The way to defeat loneliness is through meaningful relationships, and that’s what these senior centers provide,” said Cabrera, adding that he’s already concerned about 2011.

“Next year is going to be the real challenge because next year’s budget is going to be even worse.”

Castro Faces Tough Challenge From Party-Backed Candidate

July 2, 2010

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ASSEMBLYMAN NELSON CASTRO AT HIS CAMPAIGN LAUNCH EVENT LAST MONTH (PHOTO: A. WATKINS)

By JAMES FERGUSSON

When assembly candidate Nelson Castro won the Democratic primary in September 2008, on his way to becoming the first Dominican-American sent up to Albany from the Bronx, he enjoyed the support of the Bronx Democratic County Committee, then led by Assemblyman Jose Rivera. 

Not this time. 

The party, now chaired by Assemblyman Carl Heastie, is supporting Hector Ramirez, a Bronx district leader and accountant, instead.

At Castro’s reelection party at the Monte Carlo night club on Jerome Avenue on June 7, not a single councilman, senator, or assemblyman, was present, leaving the impression that he’s been hung out to dry.

Still, more than 100 local residents and community leaders showed up to cheer him on and pledge their support. “He’s a people person,” said Willie Simmons, a senior who lives on Morris Avenue. “I’ve gone to him with several problems and he took care of them.”

Simmons said it’s unfortunate that Castro’s colleagues are attempting to oust him. “Everyone connected with Maria [Baez, the former councilwoman, and ally of Rivera], they want them out, and I think it’s unfair,” she said.

For more on Castro and Ramirez, check out their campaign websites at www.hectorramirez.us and www.castro2010.com.

Editor’s note: For a longer version of this article, click here.

At PS 226: ‘Yes, We Can!’

July 2, 2010

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PS 226 ART TEACHER WENDY GUAGENTI, PRINCIPAL GLORIA DARDEN, AND SEVERAL OF THE SCHOOL’S BUDDING ARTISTS, BY A MURAL OF OBAMA THEY CREATED. (PHOTO: A. WATKINS)

By JAMES FERGUSSON

President Obama’s poll numbers may be slipping, but the man – and his words – still resonate strongly at PS 226, an elementary school on Sedgwick Avenue.

Students and teachers there recently unveiled a mural of America’s 44th President, whose face is set against a backdrop of the national flag and the text from his famous “Yes We Can” speech.

The mural, which is 4 foot by 8 foot and made of ceramic tiles, took two months to create. It was painted by nine students enrolled in the school’s Art Enrichment program.

Wendy Guagenti, the school’s art teacher who helped guide the project, said that Obama was chosen as the subject because his rise to the presidency fascinated the school’s students and inspired them to work hard.
The mural is one of three that now decorates the school’s walls.

“I felt – and luckily my principal agreed with me – that children should feel very comfortable in school and that art should be all over,” Guagenti said. “It should almost be like a gallery because it brings an energy of joy, accomplishment, creativity, and enthusiasm.”

The mural is located just inside the school’s main entrance.

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